A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs

David Lehman, Author . Nextbook/Schocken $22 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4250-8

As part of the publisher's ongoing Jewish Encounters series, Lehman, poet, anthologist (The Oxford Book of American Poetry ) and critic (The Last Avant-Garde ), melds dreamy personal reflections with impressive archival excavation for a thorough look at the popular early-20th-century songwriters and what made their work quintessentially Jewish. Delving into the iconic hits of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Larry Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, among selective others, Lehman ponders how these Ashkenazi Jews, mostly raised speaking Yiddish in New York as cantors' sons, melded their particular wit, melancholy and sophistication with the rhythmic richness of African-American music—a blending of blues and jazz. In their many beloved seminal hits—e.g., Berlin's “Alexander's Ragtime Band” (1911), George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” (1923), Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' ” (1943)—these sons (Dorothy Fields being the female lyricist exception) of refugees from anti-Semitic rumblings in Europe “were conducting a passionate romance with America,” Lehman maintains. The author himself grew up in the Inwood section of New York City, under the warm spell of these songs; by the time he graduated from Stuyvesant High School and attended Columbia, where many of these songwriters had met, rock and roll was supplanting that old-time magic. Digressive, nostalgic and deeply moving, Lehman achieves a fine, lasting tribute to the American songbook. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/10/2009
Release date: 10/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 149 pages - 978-0-8052-4271-3
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